For four years there has been one staple in the UCSB women’s volleyball team: Lindsey Ruddins. Her constant top-notch play made the Gauchos a must-watch team even when there wasn’t much else to watch besides her.
But this season, the entire UCSB team has been a must-watch. The teams’ depth helped them earn a 13-match win streak earlier this season and its first 20-plus win season since 2009.
But still, it was Ruddins who attracted all the eyes with her dominant right hand and sheer power at the net.
Ruddins showcased that power one final time at the Thunderdome on Saturday, tallying a match-high 15 kills to go along with 10 digs, leading her Gauchos to a 3-0 win over UC Irvine by set scores of 25-12, 25-23, 25-23.
While Saturday marked the final home game for Ruddins, it won’t be her last. With the Gauchos win, the team finishes with an overall mark of 22-5 and 12-4 in the Big West landing them in third place.
Currently ranked No. 33 in the country in terms of RPI, UCSB has a legitimate shot of earning an at-large bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The selection show will be broadcasted live on ESPNU at 5:30 on Sunday, Dec. 1.
“We have a lot of top 50 wins. We had the UCLA win, the San Diego win and even the Cal Poly win so those are all really big and I am confident that we can get in,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
For Ruddins, she has seen the steady climb of the program from winning just eight matches her sophomore year, to making the NIVC tournament last season, and finally this season hopefully punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
“It means a lot just to see how much this program has grown over these past five years, and it just shows that all of our hard work has really paid off and I’m really excited for the future of this program to continue to grow,” Ruddins said.
Without a doubt, Ruddins will go down as one of the best players in program history. She currently has 1,929 kills including Saturday’s stats which places her second all-time in the program’s history for kills. Her 10 digs last night also bumped her past 1,000 for her career.
“It means a lot (to be this good for the program). There’s been a lot of great players that have played here so just to be recognized is amazing,” Ruddins said.
“(I couldn’t have done this) without my teammates, coaches, weight room staff, trainers, everybody really.”
Before the match started, there was the senior night festivities for Ruddins alongside fellow graduates, Torre Glasker, Chloe Allen and Charlie Robinson.
After embracing her parents and her fellow teammate sister, Gigi Ruddins, she had notable tears in her eyes.
“It was definitely a lot and it’s hard to put into words (how emotional it was). These past five years have meant so much to me and these girls are my best friends and it being the last time playing at home was really emotional for me,” Lindsey said.
For Glasker, the moment was a little different.
“I mean, I am usually like a heavy crier most the time, but I don’t think that it’s quite hit me yet just because my hopes are so high, for our postseason chances. But I think later tonight I’ll realize what just happened,” Glasker said.
Glasker said it was a bit easier to put her emotions aside because of what was at stake but not that easy. Having transferred from Utah two seasons ago, the senior outside hitter found a new home in Santa Barbara, both on and off the court.
“It was a challenge for sure, I mean it’s our last game here at the Thunderdome but I think our team did a great job of just keeping it together,” Glasker said.
Glasker finished the night with nine kills and five digs to go along with a pair of blocks.
Allen registered one dig in her final night at the Thunderdome. A San Marcos High graduate, Allen said she always appreciated the fans who came to support her from high school to college.
Robinson did not play on Saturday as she has been out for the entire season, rehabbing her torn ACL which happened during the spring. When healthy, Robinson was a solid middle blocker and last season she set career highs in kills (192) and blocks (68). She hopes to get her masters and continue playing in Europe next year.
Overall, UCSB outhit UC Irvine .404 to .278 on Saturday and led the match in kills (50), digs (43), assists (49) and blocks (7).
In the first set, the Gauchos jumped out to a 10-4 lead and stretched that out to 20-10 before ultimately winning 25-12.
In the second set, the Anteaters (5-23, 2-14) took a 13-9 lead but UCSB bounced back to tie the set up at 15-15. From there, the teams traded points when at 20-20, Santa Barbara scored four of the next six and then a kill from Rowan Ennis at 24-23 sealed the frame.
The third set had 14 ties with the final one coming at 21-21. A pair of kills from Glasker, a UC Irvine error and a kill from freshman middle blocker Deni Wilson sealed the win for UCSB.
Postgame, Lantagne Welch was emotional talking about her four seniors leaving her program but said, “the one cool thing is we are not done and we get to go back in the gym and see where things go.”
She said each of the four seniors that they were all “incredibly special that have given so much to the program,” and that while it’s hard to say goodbye she is appreciative of what they have meant not just to UCSB but to her.
The night ended with a special montage on the Gauchos home video board of all the younger players saying kind words to their seniors.
A final, special game-night moment for all the UCSB players and coaches to remember.